In November 1969, the National Trades Union Congress organised a seminar, the Modernisation of the Labour Movement, which marked the decisive moment when labour switched from a confrontational to a cooperative approach towards management. That formula has served Singapore well for half a century by underpinning the relationship between labour, employers and the Government. The economic pie has grown for both workers and companies in an atmosphere of trust, to which the state has contributed as an impartial arbiter. It is that trust which helped workers accept the painful choices that were made during economic downturns. Tripartism has become an unremarkable fact of national life here.
Today, the challenge for labour lies perhaps less within the country and more outside it. A report by the International Labour Organisation released earlier this year notes just how precariously balanced the world of work is. Technological advances such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will generate new jobs, but those who are left unemployed in the process may be the "least equipped" to seize opportunities. The report warns that not only will today's skills not match the jobs of tomorrow, but that "newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete". The greening of economies will also create millions of jobs - the result of adopting sustainable practices and clean technology. But other jobs will disappear as carbon-and resource-intensive industries are scaled back. There is a demographic conundrum as well, as youth populations expand in some nations and ageing populations increase in others, exerting pressure on labour markets and social security systems.